11 Nuggets on Minneapolis Car2Go / @car2goMPLS?

I’ve been using Car2Go for a few months now, but haven’t written about it yet, so I guess now is as good a time as any. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Car2Go is a car rental service that distributes cars throughout a city, let’s you check a car out using a card + PIN, then park the car somewhere else within the boundaries of their rental territory. You only pay for the time you use the car.

The big difference between this, door mall right on cars, and things like HourCar or ZipCar, is most rental services require you to return a car to where you got it. Car2Go, on the other hand, works well for short-term rentals (even a few minutes), 1-way trips, and trips where you plan to be somewhere for a while because you can check the car in when you get there, then take that (or a different) Car2Go home when you’re ready to return.

When I tell people about it, they tend to come up with a lot of “whatabouts”. Here are some common ones:

1. Whatabout the keys? It’s in the car. You unlock the car using a card. You put the key in a dock on the dash when you’re done with your trip.

2. Whatabout gas? That’s built into the price. If a car is low on fuel, you can earn credits (currently 20 minutes of driving time) for topping off the tank using a car card that’s in the car. You can also find cars low on fuel using this site I created.

3. Whatabout the size of those cars? Yep. They’re all SmartCar cars, which are 2-door cars with very little storage. They’re not ideal for every type of trip. It’s not the ideal car for a 60-minute daily commute, but it works fine for bopping around town.

4. How do you find them? There’s an app for that. And the website.

5. How much does it cost? You pay by the minute. Here’s an invoice for a trip I took from near Loring Park to the Crooked Pint. Five minutes of driving cost $2.32.

I didn’t have to pay that $2.32 due to credits I’ve received from topping off the gas tank on previous rentals, but that’s what it would normally cost. With tax, that’s 46.4 cents/minute. 38 cents per minute to Car2Go and 8.4 cents per minute to the Governor.

6. Whatabout taxes? The sales taxes are ridiculously high (something like 22%) because the service is taxed like a traditional rental car (a portion goes to subsidize Vikings fans who were too cheap to help pay for a new stadium). Politicians love taxation without representation, so often jack up taxes on car rentals. But, the vast majority of Car2Go users actually live in the city/county/state where they use them. A politician who thinks we’re better off encouraging car micro-rentals since they’re better for the environment in a variety of ways should consider figuring out how to carve out an exemption for car rentals below a certain duration to straighten this out.

7. Whatabout meters? Car2Go has permits on the cars that allow them to be parked at meters. Not ALL meters, but most. The cutoff is based on the meter’s time limit. If it’s a 2-hour meter or longer (so not a super high intensity zone) you can park the car there. Downtown, a lot of this parking is available near Gold Medal Park, Loring Park, Elliot Park and the North Loop. Looking at where Car2Go cars are parked downtown right now gives a pretty good sense of where works:

8. How do I get one of these magical permits? Seriously. I wondered the same thing. It would be awesome if I could ditch my own car at a meter without having to deal with meters. But, I think the cost would be tough to justify for the casual user. I don’t have an exact figure, but I’m pretty sure you can get quality contract parking downtown for cheaper than the permits. Which also suggests that the City of Minneapolis is collecting some significant revenue from those permits.

9. What if I want a car to be available for me when I leave what I’m doing? The app allows you to reserve a car for up to 30 minutes. If you don’t make it there in under 30, the reservation is cancelled and you can’t re-reserve the same car. Otherwise, I bet someone would create a macro on their computer to reserve the car in front of their house every 31 minutes to keep that thing locked down. You can also put the cars in standby mode while running errands, but the meter keeps running. If you plan to be out for a long time, the costs switches from a per minute to hourly at a lower rate.

10. Whatabout snow? Car2Go currently has around 250 cars on the road in Minneapolis with more on the way. That creates a bit of a logistical nightmare for them when there’s a snow emergency. They offer a time credit for people who help keep the cars from being towed as a way to crowdsource the work. I’ve put together a script to identify cars on snow emergency routes. So far it only works for Day 1. The reverse geocoding used to decide which side of a street a car is on isn’t perfect, so I’m working on ways to solve that for the Day 2 & Day 3 snow emergency routines.

11. What’s a good use for this? Whatever you’d like, as long as your destination is within Car2Go’s boundaries (currently Minneapolis’ city limits). For creative uses, you could drive one somewhere then run home. Or drive one somewhere that you plan on drinking, then use another form of transportation to get home. Or, drive them to the LRT down by the VA to catch the train to the airport (faster and cheaper than a cab or pure public transit in most situations). Drive on to the city limit, then catch a bus to shorten your commute. Drive one between points transit poorly serves.

Now I have something I can point people to when they ask me about this. Have any other questions or comments on the service? By the way, I’m not affiliated with the service. I’m just a bit of a power user.

Franklin at East River Road Intersection Proposals

Here’s one of the proposed changes to the less than perfect intersection that is Franklin, E River Rd, and 27th Ave SE. Roundabouts:

Roundabout Option for Franklin at W River Rd

However, based on Becki Iverson’s report at Bridgeland News, this doesn’t seem like a likely outcome. Instead, they’re going to play with the timing of traffic lights.

Zipper Method Traffic Merging Comprehension Issues

Alexis and I seem to be having similar issues on I-35 with illiterate drivers:

@amck on the Zipper Method

I-35 goes down to a single lane in each direction for a few miles between Rush City and North Branch. In the lead up to the merge, MNDOT has installed signs that clearly state to use both lanes when traffic is backed up. They do this because they’re reminding people that the zipper method is the way to most efficiently move traffic through bottlenecks: continue in both lanes of traffic up to the point of the merge, then take turns merging. It’s not a particularly difficult concept (it can be explained in a sentence, or even more concisely on a traffic sign), but that doesn’t stop Minnesota drivers from screwing it up.

That brings me to this past Friday, where I experienced driving illiteracy first-hand. As traffic began slowing down, MNDOT started publishing signs that the left lane would be closed 7 miles ahead, then 6, 5, etc. That, apparently, was the right time to move to the right, according to people who couldn’t comprehend what “USE BOTH LANES” means.

Some of the people suffering from premature mergulation started getting trafficly frustrated with the more literate drivers who continued cruising along in the left lane. I saw two different reactions from this group:

1. Some would drive in the right lane and swing to the left to block literate drivers from continuing to the merge point. I’ve found that this type of driver is easy to get around as it become more and more clear in their mirrors that I won’t be slowing down when I get to them. While based on poor understanding of road signs, the behavior is rational. If people pass you, they’ll surely lead to further delays through the merge point.

2. The other type of behavior I saw is pictured below:

Passive Aggressive Illiterate Driver

This illiterate driver, rather than sit in the right lane and block out drivers, chose to drive in the left lane and maintain a steady pace next to a car in the right lane, thus shutting down one of two lanes on an interstate highway. While the right-lane-swayer’s behavior seems rational since the driver is trying to save time, this illiterate driver proved that she has no respect for the time of people behind her, her passengers, or her own time.

Yes, she is at a dead stop with over a mile of open lane in front of her. She’s riding the yellow line because a driver did manage to get around her by driving in the ditch.

Here is a snippet from a MNDOT press release explaining the zipper method:

This “take turns” technique, known as the zipper method, is used when traffic is congested. In this instance, drivers should use both lanes all the way to the designated merge point and then take turns merging.

Drivers are also reminded not to play vigilante by blocking or denying access to other drivers who are using the other lane of traffic prior to the bridge. Minnesota State Patrol officers will patrol the work zone to enforce traffic laws and respond to incidents. Extra law enforcement throughout the construction zone will increase safety for the traveling public and construction workers on site. Drivers also are reminded that fines are doubled for infractions in the work zone.

Frankly, I’m not sure why I just wrote this. Someone literate enough to read a blog is certainly literate enough to understand what “USE BOTH LANES” means when they see it on a traffic sign. Perhaps this could be a motivator to reach out to illiterate friends, neighbors, aunts & uncles to explain the concept? Together, we can make Minnesota’s roads more efficient.